Seven quick-win lifestyle hacks for daily happiness

Apparently, I just can’t shut up when it comes to wellbeing advice for teachers. Here’s the latest TES article, with some super easy and effective hacks for anyone forced into this ‘adulting’ lark.


That education has acknowledged a problem with mental health and wellbeing among teachers is undoubtedly a good thing, but not everything that has come out of it has been positive, or easy to interpret. For many teachers, the advice offered to keep yourself healthy is overwhelming, off-putting and conflicting.

This is a shame, as the truth is: there’s no need for a dramatic lifestyle overhaul. Small, subtle changes often yield big results and ones that you’re much more likely to maintain.

Here are some of the small lifestyle ‘hacks’ that have been making me happier over the last few years.

  1. If you’re working, keep your phone on but out of sight
    I keep it on vibrate so that I’ll hear work calls, but my brain is no longer being pulled in different directions by social media or untimely personal messages.

  2. Take some time to prepare food the night before
    Even with the best of intentions, chances are that if you leave food prep to the morning rush, you’ll end up with a packed lunch of hot-dog salad. Making extra portions of dinner, roasting a batch of veg or freezing batches of healthy soup are all simple ways to make this a super-quick evening job. (check out these healthy packed lunch ideas, too)

  3. Look for opportunities to be active in your day
    If you’re struggling to fit gym time into your busy schedule, don’t sweat it! Instead, set yourself a secret fitness mission to move as much as possible through your day. Take the stairs, walk the long way around, make the journey to the staff room at break. Download one of the many free pedometer apps if you’re keen to occasionally measure your progress or check out these exercise ideas you can do in the classroom.

  4. Have a water bottle nearby
    I’ve lost count of the number of days I intended to drink my 2.5 litres of water, only to finish a lesson-packed day crawling towards the nearest water cooler. I simply forget. Having a full bottle nearby has reminded me to hydrate more often, resulting in fewer headaches and more energy.

  5. Working at home? Stick to the same room
    Restrict work (and work-related items and reminders) to just one area of the house – preferably not the lounge or bedroom. Having a clearly defined workspace can help you to ‘switch off’ along with your laptop.

  6. Notice noticing your thoughts
    Before you listen to your thoughts, add a little distance between you and them by inserting the words “I notice” into your head. For example, “I notice that I’m thinking that I have X to do when I get into school; I notice that I’m feeling a little anxious about Y this afternoon.” The more I’ve practised this, the more I’ve found that I’m much less phased and more accepting of work-life stress.

  7. Explore what relaxation is to you
    Just because it’s called downtime, doesn’t mean you have to spend it lying down aided only by a family-sized bag of Doritos and a show about Hoarders. Get curious about what makes you tick. You might just find that playing sports, writing a blog or practising an instrument offers you exactly the headspace and relaxation that you were looking for.

3 Mindfulness Tips for a Restful Nights’ Sleep

Struggling to sleep? Waking up feeling anything but refreshed? Take a look at a recent article I wrote for TES, including mindfulness-based strategies for getting some shut eye. These techniques work for adults and children alike!


Thanks to a growing wealth of sleep-related research, we now know that good-quality sleep is essential to healthy brain and body function. And yet achieving a solid eight hours of sleep can seem near impossible when you have assessment objectives and mark schemes buzzing around your brain. Even when the miraculous happens and we make it to bed at a reasonable hour, how frustrating can it be to lie there, wrestling your own thoughts in the early hours.

Luckily, help is at hand…

How to fall asleep

Firstly, you can create a daily routine and lifestyle that promotes good quality sleep, long before your head hits the pillow. Leading sleep expert, Professor Matthew Walker, tells us that regularity is key – create a night-time routine and stick to it.

At the same time, when you do go to bed, ensure that your room is cool and dark. This includes having a “no-screen” policy for the last one to two hours before bed, no matter what emails may or may not be coming in.

Lastly, watch your caffeine intake over the day and swap the boozy night-cap for a camomile tea – while alcohol might appear to help you drift off, its sedative effects are extremely detrimental to both the patterns and quality of your sleep.

Now, let’s say for argument’s sake that you’ve already done all of this, but here you are at 3am, wide awake, fretting over the upcoming book scrutiny. If counting sheep just isn’t working for you, here are three mindfulness strategies that just might help instead:

1. Focus on your breath

Just begin to notice what your breathing is like; the feel of it going into your nostrils; the length; the temperature.

You can experiment with changing your breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Maybe try inhaling to the count of four, holding for one and exhaling for six. Can you feel the breath as it reaches your chest…your sides…your stomach? Can you feel your stomach rise as you inhale and lower as you exhale?

If thoughts come back in, which they most certainly will, acknowledge this without any judgement and return to exploring your breath.

2. The body scan

This one is great to do both when trying to fall asleep and then again if insomnia strikes. Simply bring your attention up from your toes to your head, exploring all the different places and parts in your body, noticing any sensations of tightness/discomfort and allowing them to relax. You might find that tensing the muscles one by one, or imagining that your body is very heavy and slowly sinking will help you relax.

I’ve had great feedback from adults, parents and children themselves who have used a mix of mindful breathing and body scans to get to sleep. Click the link below for a child-friendly 6 minute body scan from ‘GoZen’ to get you started with your children.

3. Explore difficult sensations

When you’re kept awake because of fears, anxieties and other difficult emotions, become curious about the sensations in your body. Ask yourself questions like: is the feeling smooth or sharp? Is it pulsing or aching? Is it flowing or throbbing? What colour/shape would I give this feeling?

As counter-intuitive as this may feel, exploring how negative emotions feel within the body can be an empowering alternative to listening to your inner-monologue of thoughts and worries.

Brave new world: Act I (leaving my job)

After a huge amount of care and consideration, this week I made the monumental decision to see my Head teacher to announce that I would be resigning from my role at the end of this school year.

To many, including my former, more sensible self, this might seem like utter madness. As a head of department at 33, I’m earning more than I thought I would at this age, I have a solid position and status in school and as I’m repeatedly reminded by my non-teaching friends and acquaintances – I have 12 weeks holiday a year. I also love many parts of my job, mainly my daily interactions with incredible kids and colleagues.

I suppose that I fit nicely in with society’s picture of what success looks like.

So why am I leaving?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the urge to be out on my own; to be my own boss; to have creative freedom; to make my own decisions. And the plan always was to step into this, either through writing my blog, completing additional courses or taking on extra jobs, while teaching at the same time. Lately, I’ve come to the realisation that this would never happen while I was in full time teaching. Though I’ve found maintaining work-life balance easier in my role within a secondary school, it’s still an exhausting job that eats up not only time but also your energy. If I want to put my heart and soul into a new project, I know I can’t do it from this position.

Let me be clear – I still love teaching.

I love the children I teach (even the ones I encounter briefly) like they were my own family. I love delivering lessons; the look on a child’s face when they’ve understood something, gained a new skill, pushed themselves, taken pride in their work, received praise. I love planning lessons and creating resources, challenging myself to think creatively about how I can make the unknown known; the dull colourful and the disengaged inspired. From the meek, nervous student-teacher I was less than a decade ago, I have become a classroom director, thriving upon the daily performance of my actors.

I have fallen out of love though, with the idea of teaching within an institution. Again, I find myself in a position where I’m spending more time on data and targets, new Ofsted-friendly initiatives and pointless paperwork, all of which require a lot of effort but have no real impact on children’s learning (in fact they’re even detrimental in some cases). When I drive to work in a morning or sit down to work on an evening, I can’t shake the sense that I don’t believe in what I’m doing anymore.

leaving job pic

Obviously I couldn’t resist capturing my complex emotions in an #Iquitselfie

From August, I will be out on my own. I’m scared… yes, but I’m also more excited than I can ever remember being. I don’t know what the future will look like yet, but the possibilities are endless. More than anything, I feel like if I’m going to work with children, then I’m a better judge of how to do this than the government, or Ofsted, or schools. I want to be my best in order to give the best to the children in my care.

I have never thought of myself as brave – quite the opposite – but I have realised that I’m not afraid to fail. What I am afraid of is continuing to do something that I know just isn’t really working for me anymore; to repeatedly crawl forward when every fibre of my being is pulling me away in another direction.

And at a time when life seems so uncertain, I can cling on to my own advise that I often give the kids at school: people regret not trying something a whole lot more than they ever regret trying.

Are you a resource-miser? Share instead!

If there is one thing that infuriates and befuddles me, it’s the numerous colleagues that I’ve met in different sectors of education, who refuse to share planning, resources and ideas. They keep them under lock and key in filing cabinets; they hoard them on their personal memory sticks; they remain silent when colleagues say they’re not sure how to teach Chromatography to year 6, knowing full well that they have a brilliant lesson under their belt. Even when these resource-misers do put things onto the shared drive, when they move year groups, subjects or jobs, everything miraculously disappears.

It begs the question: what is the purpose of our planning, prep, ideas and resources? Surely the answer is that it’s to teach, support and help children to learn.

resource miser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As far as I can see, sharing your hard work has the following benefits:

  1. Other staff will be really grateful and probably likely to return the favour when you’re in need, saving you time and effort.
  2. More children will be taught a lesson that you created. More children will learn and benefit from your hard work… so without doing anything more yourself, your ‘learning royalties’ just keep totting up. That’s a great feeling.
  3. Teaching can be very insular, with staff only really being aware or caring about what’s happening in their class, year group or subject. Sharing at least allows you to ‘give’ to the school as a whole, without doing any extra work.
  4. Every teacher has their own style and every class is different, so others may well adapt your lesson to suit them, and who knows… you might decide to use their alterations the next time you teach this. No matter how proud I am of a lesson, I always have to make some kind of change to suit the class/time of day/my mood/their mood.
  5. In term time, the majority of teachers work constantly. Keeping up with the ever-changing demands of the classroom can be incredibly stressful. If we can make things a little bit easier for others – if we can give them the odd lesson that saves them an hour’s planning on an evening – then surely that’s a good thing.
  6. It’s so easy to share – just save it on the shared drive.
  7. It’s a really nice thing to do. Doing nice things makes you feel good.
  8. Your colleagues will appreciate you even more and hopefully respect your professional and supportive attitude.

Just to play devil’s advocate, let’s look at the other side. Being a resource-miser has the following benefits:

  1. No other soul will ever benefit from your blood, sweat and tears. Everyone else will have to work and suffer just like you did – no easy rides for anyone.

Point made.

So please spread your resources around school like jam on toast. The more you spread, the sweeter it will taste. And the more mouths you’ll feed.

 

Teacher Wellbeing: Mindfulness over multi-tasking

I’ve often read that one of the keys to mindfulness, and indeed happiness, is to do one thing and one time. Pure focus and concentration on that one thing. 

Still…I find it so unbelievable hard to put this into practice.

It’s often joked about that women are used to multitasking; in some ways, ‘we’ almost hold it over men and laugh at them, because they can’t do three things at once like us. In the teaching community, many of us wear our multitasking abilities like a badge of pride, bragging and moaning at the same time about how much we’ve done by 9AM and how much more we have to do.

Yes, we get an unbelievable amount done… but is it good for us? I doubt it.

Teachers often complain that ‘kids these days’ have 3 minute attention spans; that they’re overstimulated by technology. Yet, I know so many teachers that tell me that they can’t get through a TV show without thinking about their ‘to do’ list; that they wake up at 3AM thinking about seating plans and checking emails on their phone; that are continuously accused of ‘being somewhere else’ even when they’re in the room.

There’s no wonder that many people say it takes them a couple of weeks into summer before they can even calm down and relax.

Summer holidays though are a great opportunity to embrace the art of doing just one thing; to sit and read a book outside, with the sun on your face and the breeze in your hair, and the noises of holidays all around you.  There are endless opportunities to practise mindfulness – to listen, touch, taste, smell, see and feel all the things that are normally there, but aren’t normally acknowledged because your mind is somewhere else – to exist in the present moment.

Throughout my holiday, I’m going to strive to pay attention as much as possible, and just do one thing at a time. This is going to mean breaking a few bad habits and I don’t expect it be to an entirely smooth ride, but I’ll do my best, safe in the knowledge that my brain really needs a holiday too. She’s had a really hard year. She really deserves to truly relax.

Editor’s update (20.11.17): Since writing this post, I’ve read a number of books about Mindfulness and watched some fascinating talks promoting it’s scientifically-proven benefits. As a result, I’m now signed up to a course with the British Institute of Mindfulness in January 2018, so that I can pass this information onto my students. The more I’ve learnt about this topic, the more I’ve become convinced of the need for it to be taught as a means of battling the anxiety and depression that has become prevalent in our schools. And I’m not just thinking of the students! Look out for more Mindfulness coming your way soon…